A riotous exposition of old wars and new blues.
Alabama 3’s latest album opens with sirens, static, and a surging sense of paranoia. From ‘Goodbye Glasnost‘s’ discordant mix of sounds, a voice declares, “This desperate quest for money means we’re on the brink of mass extinction.” It’s the first of many prophecies and protestations in ‘Cold War Classics Vol. 2.‘
Prophet and protester-in-chief, Larry Love (aka Rob Spragg), arrives on the second track, ‘Before The Ship Came In‘, singing with a voice somewhere south of Leonard Cohen.”We built sandcastles on the beaches before the ship came in.” It’s a drifting piano ballad that leads us ethereally above the noise and rubble, lyrically reminiscent of Bob Dylan’s 1964 apocalyptic, ‘When the Ship Comes In.‘ While Dylan depicted a world teetering on the brink of nuclear destruction, Love seems to be inhabiting the obliterated aftermath. Did the world explode and we didn’t even notice?
A curious nostalgia emerges for the old world disputes, the binary simplicity of East versus West, before today’s splintered information space and post-truth nihilistic wasteland. ‘(I Can’t) Keep Calm and Carry On‘ is a funk-synth slaying of the old British aphorism that normalises submission to a system where, “the loser gets liquidated.” It’s a righteous revolt, not afraid to topple figureheads and hurl them into the sea. “We’ve been getting high on Winston Churchill’s lies / skinny dipping in the river of blood. / Eric Clapton smiled when David Bowie sieg-heiled.” Similarly, ‘Thank You‘ sardonically gives thanks to the powers that be for another “nice mess you’ve got me into.”
The album grieves and seethes in equal measure. In 2019, the band faced the untimely death of The Very Reverend D. Wayne Love (aka Jake Black.) Here, Larry Love often sounds like a man alone, cut adrift behind enemy lines. On the centrepiece and single, ‘If I’d Never Seen The Sunshine,‘ Love is a wandering blue ghost. His vocal lizard-like and haunted. The song itself is a follow-up of sorts to their hit ‘Woke Up This Morning,‘ the iconic theme for the TV show ‘The Sopranos.’ Here, they’ve enlisted Dominic Chianese of ‘The Sopranos,‘ whose vocals feature on the track. Love describes the song as about “some fella on the wrong side of the wall in Germany with a hangover, feeling alienated and dispossessed.”
Everywhere you look, the answer to the new blues is yesterday’s sins. In ‘The Influencer Blues,’ he declares he must “…get off the internet/ get some drugs and rock and roll, and have some sex / Meet a rich woman with exotic pets.” There’s an absurdism throughout. The old-world gangster, with old-world values, who in an age of cynicism and corporate nihilism, suddenly finds himself the most principled man left in the room.
‘Cold War Classics Vol. 2‘ carries its heart for the outsiders, the lost souls, the losers, the honest world warriors, and refugees. ‘The Girl with Lampedusa in Her Hair‘ paints the plight of a young girl journeying from a bombed-out basement in Aleppo with dreams of Oxford Street, “God willing and the creek don’t rise, I’ll be with you tonight in paradise” while ‘Get On This One‘ follows Woody Guthrie’s ‘This Train Is Bound For Glory,‘ promising the downtrodden passage to a new dawn: “We’ll all cross the border, God willing.” Both songs leverage the lexicon of blues and outlaw country, worlds that fully understood “Pictures from life’s other side.”
The music is thick as molasses, a rich mix of beats and brass interlaced with harmonica, trip-hop blues, and the ‘mongrel music’ mix of acid house and country, as Love himself has dubbed it. Recorded at their native Brixton Jamm studio, with Danton Supple at the helm, Love sought to capture a rich ’90s atmosphere, inspired by Supple’s anthemic work with Coldplay. A different version of this album, ‘Cold War Classics Vol. 1,’ reportedly will offer a stark contrast with “brutal techno versions” and is set for release through select channels, offering fans a choice between the East mix and the West rendition.
‘Cold War Classics Vol. 2‘ plays with the old world to address the modern, and in that, it is a perfect rendition of what Alabama 3 does.